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Interview by Bircan UNVER
This is Part 2 of an interview conducted
the end of May 2000, with Fugen Gulertekin, who is an inmate at the
Ohio Reformatory for Women. She was accused and convicted of something
she never did -- of hurting a child who was in her home day care center.
She was sentenced to eight (8) years in prison, even though the child
is alive and it does not appear that the child will be permanently damaged.
appears in Light Millennium's Summer
"I was very scared of the Unknown"
BU: Would you tell us what daily life in prison is like? What is tolerable and what is unbearable?
FG: The days go by very fast. Work makes a big difference. I work in the kitchen from 4:15 AM to 11:30 AM. Also, the count times divide the day into sections: 7:30 AM, 4 PM and 9 PM. This makes time seem like it's going faster. The count times are the times when the guards count all the inmates to make sure no one has escaped.
I write a lot of letters, providing pages and pages of information to my attorneys. Because of that, the months of March and April went zooming by.
I have two problems here. First, I came into a world that I didn't know anything about, so I was very scared --scared of the Unknown. In prison I learned what it's like to be very frightened.
The second difficult thing is that I am one prisoner among 2000 other prisoners, and we are all assumed to be criminals and liars. So every time I talk, the validity of what I say is questioned.
The way I survive here is by not making friends. I'm on my own. I read the Quran (Koran) and study the Arabic language. Now I can read the Quran in Arabic at a first or second grade level (making some mistakes!). So that keeps me busy and also is a positive motivation, because it stimulates my brain.
Most of the inmates here function at a very low level and do a lot of wheeling and dealing. The issues are: Who is whose girlfriend? Who stole what? Who did she sell it to? Can I steal too? Who is in "the hole" now <editor's note: this is similar to solitary confinement> and for doing what?
"Negativism was killing me "
If you have read "The Lord of the Flies," you know what it means when I say that this place is the core of evil in human nature. I have observed for almost two years now, so I know a lot of things. I wanted to communicate and spread my positivism, because negativism was killing me. But I found out that with the way the prison is run I cannot spread positivism. The prison is run by bad faith, illogically excessive exercises of power, and making money off inmates. So I'm not trying anymore, and that way I have a certain amount of peace.
My family is visiting me every other week. I get a lot of letters, and I write them back. Thanks to Dogan Uluc, I get Hurriyet newspaper every day. Reading Hurriyet makes me think I'm blessed. There are so many unlucky people out there who need so much more than I need.
I exercise. In one day I exercise and walk almost two hours per day. I get to bed at 9:30 and my body feels happy to be lying down until 3:30 AM. Then I work from 4:15 to 11:30. My health is getting to be better.
BU: What are your strengths? Where do you get them?
FG: Prison taught me two things. First, I have the greatest family on earth. My whole family has such a deep-rooted love. But in daily life and with the societal pressures on us, we lose perspective. Being surrounded by so much evil and hearing so much evil showed me what a precious family I have, and especially an awesome one-of-a kind husband.
In our 28 years of marriage my husband Erdal did not raise his voice to me once. There wasn't a day that we were separated more than five or six hours. We always found ways to work together apart from "game playing" for power and money. Our lives were so simple and so precious. There were days I wished he were that "macho" male kind of a man who is always in control of things and makes a lot of money. But then we never would have had this spiritually rewarding, loving life. I wouldn't exchange that for anything.
The second thing that prison taught me is that most human beings do not value other people. Most people are selfish individuals who, for their own wellbeing, walk all over other people and value only materialistic things. Human beings with any backbone and character are rare.
"Started a new cycle of hope, a new beginning "
BU: Since your imprisonment, have you come to value things that you did not appreciate before your prison experience?
FG: Yes. I have come to value true friendship more and more.
There are three special friends I met at ORW: Beverly Seymour, Joy Hoop, and Dr. Mowery. Beverly Seymour is known as the "jailhouse lawyer" at ORW. She is a very special person. She's here for killing her ex-husband. After they had been divorced for two years, he broke into her house and beat her up. She killed him in self-defense, but she got 8 to 25 years in prison. Beverly is the one who read my transcript and came up with some new theories for us to use in my case. The minute she came up with these new theories, my papers were confiscated from her and I was sent to "the hole." But she had started a new cycle of hope, a new beginning; she is a new friend for life.
"Fighting back keeps the light of hope "
While I was living in unit A-1, Joy Hook was my roommate. She was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for conspiracy to kill her husband. For the two months that we were together, she kept writing here and writing there and saying, "You need to fight!" So I'm fighting. I will get a new trial -- I do believe that!
My third special new friend at ORW is Dr. Mowery, the psychologist who is assigned to all inmates whose names begin with A through G. I went to see her because I was suffering severe panic attacks. These panic attacks started after I saw a fight between two women that ended up with a lot of blood and torn flesh. Dr. Mowery is one of those people who are real saints. I can find peace in talking with her. After listening to my story, she encouraged me to fight back, so I fight back by writing. Fighting back keeps the light of hope burning in my heart.
BU: You saved Patrick Lape's life. Despite this fact, his parents are suing you and your husband for a lot of money, claiming that you caused certain injuries to their son. Do you know how Patrick is doing now? Do you know whether he is doing all right, health-wise?
FG: I don't know how he is doing. His parents do not communicate this information, and it has not been reported in the newspapers. I saved his life, and I am glad of that and hope he is ok.
"The people who are guilty are the ones who make the most noise "
BU: You had raised a huge amount of money to get released on bail while your trial was going on. Then you were given the maximum sentence of eight years in prison. But it seems as though the family, the media, and the court still were not satisfied-- they wanted you to be punished even more. The Lape family is trying to get money from you even though you and your family have nothing except the house that your husband and daughter live in. Why do you think they are trying to take even that away from you?
The justice system in Columbus was too quick to get me behind bars. They did not want me to stay at home under "house arrest' because I was doing my own investigations and posting the results on the Internet. So I was put back in jail for no good reason. When I was sent back to jail one person wrote to me: "If all you said was right, then why did you get prosecuted?" It is because the Lapes and others had money, power and political "pull."
In jail I saw that the people who are guilty are the ones who make the most noise. I think the Lape family has something to hide, so that's why they are trying to intimidate me.
"To educate disabled and otherwise disadvantaged Turkish children "
BU: Before this unfortunate incident, what was your "American Dream"? What did you want to accomplish in this country/ and after all that has happened, how do you evaluate your previous "American Dream"?
FG: Before this incident, our American dream was to get the best educations we could for ourselves and our children, to learn as much as possible, and to take the knowledge back to Turkey to share with others.
We wanted to be the chosen ones. Last year I read an article in Hurriyet newspaper about a university professor in the United States who was paid there three times more than the average Turkish university professor was. We wanted to earn a lot of money to turn around and educate disabled and otherwise disadvantaged Turkish children.
The Turkish population has a lot of disadvantages as compared with the populations of so-called "western" countries in terms of organizing to solve social problems. We Turks, for certain social and political reasons, do not fight enough to correct societal wrongs. We have become fearful and intimidated because of our history of wrongful use of government power. We do not hold people and organizations accountable for their wrong actions. In our Turkish culture we have the greatest minds, but few activists. The great minds in Turkey sit around the table for many hours having deep discussions, dense with great substance, but in the final analysis there is no outcome --just talk.
In America, in contrast, when something happens that is wrong, thousands of dollars are raised in a minute to fight to correct that wrong; there is an attempt to hold individuals and organizations accountable. There may not be as much depth and substance and lengthy discussion as in Turkey, but there is action, so things get done. People work together toward a goal, which requires that each person give up some individuality, but for a purpose.
In America, we learned the work ethic. Whatever I want, I know I need to work hard for it. I have heard a lot of Turkish-Americans say "I can't wait to go back to Turkey and put my feet up and use my notes to lecture for the rest of my life." My husband and I do not feel that way. We do not want to go back to Turkey to rest. We want to go back to Turkey to work harder to accomplish our goals and to make changes that will benefit the Turkish people. I am proud of this.
America certainly is not perfect. But at least people are being smart by committing themselves to do non-profit work, giving back to the community and changing the things in society that need to be changed.
"I would never change any part of my life."
BU: If you were able to go backwards in time, what would you have done differently in regard to your current situation?
FG: I always have said that I would never change any part of my life. I am who I am today because of the life I have lived. If I changed certain experiences in my life, then my life's learning phases would change parallel to my life experiences. I don't want an easy life. I love a challenged life. For me that means that I am living life to its fullest.
Yes, I was humiliated being a "criminal" in prison, but not anymore. Yes, I cried. Yes, I wanted to die. Yes, I was scared enough to pee in my pants. But not anymore.
I have learned something that not many people with my credentials -- graduate school degrees, etc. -- are expected to experience. I'm wiser and I love life more. I'm making moves. Step by step I'm living more of life by going higher and higher in variety of experience and enjoying it along with the pain.
As a mother, I am tortured by the fact that I have been wrongfully convicted of a crime I never committed and therefore cannot be with my family. But I have to see the good side. My family members are alive and healthy. That's what's important.
I will get out of prison. I will prove my innocence.
Proving my innocence will depend on how many money Turkish-American people can raise. I need from fifty to 75 thousand dollars. Are there fifty thousand Turks in America? Can each one donate one or two dollars? Do we have any wealthy business people who will invest their money in my case? If so, they will get a return of then times their investment.
"My goal is goodwill and to help others."
BU: Would you share with us what are your most important friendships and what builds up those special friendships?
FG: When I was a child, I didn't have many friends. I was supposed to stay at home after school in the big city. When I was home, I looked out the window a lot. People called me "the window bird."
Now I have ten very close friends, so each of them is my best friend for life. For instance, Nancy Erickson has been my friend for almost twenty years here in the United States. I have three friends from Turkey whom I have known for thirty years. I have two elderly friends here whom I have known for fifteen years. And from Turkey I have four family members who are my best friends for the rest of my life.
My friendships develop slowly but last longer. My friendships are based on unconditional love, so that's why they develop slowly. I trust everyone until they prove they cannot be trusted. The ones who prove they can be trusted are my long-term friends.
I don't ask questions within friendships. I don't talk behind people's backs. I had an experience when I was young that taught me that lesson. When I was in high school, about 14 or 15 years old, I was working at the school telephone center. Two teachers were talking and laughing with each other. One of them left the room. Then a third teacher came in the room. The two teachers in the room started to gossip about the teacher who had left the room, saying ugly things. This made a very strong impression on me.
To me, a friend is someone special. I have a lot of acquaintances but only ten life friends. I feel I'm blessed to have those ten friends. I know not many people have more than two or three close friends.
My goal is goodwill and to help others. I want to be a light of hope for others. If I help someone, then that person often wants to help me in return. I tell that person to help others who need it.
This issue is dedicated to: FM-2030
Links and Logos are updated in this page in August 2015.